Bethany considers single lot ordinance

Under the guidance of a new chairman and with new membership in place, Bethany Beach’s Charter and Ordinance Committee met Nov. 17 to proceed with updates of town codes.

Town Council Member and CORC Chairman Lew Killmer took over the chairman’s seat for former Chairman Wayne Fuller and Vice Chairman Tony McClenny. Both council members have retired from the committee, partially due to a new rule limiting council representation on town committees to just two council members per committee. (Jerry Dorfman is the second council member on CORC now.)

Killmer plunged right in, continuing with some items of old business for the committee, some new items and a new one of his own.

One new initiative for the committee came via Town Manager Cliff Graviet, who proposed what is usually referred to as a “single-lot ordinance.” Such legislation was recently proposed for neighboring Ocean View, particularly as a way to prevent property owners from negatively impacting their neighbors with elevation changes and flood controls.

Bethany Beach’s existing ordinance sets a maximum of a 6-inch rise above the crown of the roadway if elevation is changed. Under the new ordinance, the property owner would be required to provide an engineering report to the town as part of the permitting process.

Graviet said he believed the single-lot ordinance would ensure that individual property owners weren’t working at cross-purposes with the town in its effort to handle stormwater and tidal flooding. Public Works Supervisor Brett Warner said he estimated an additional $1,200 cost per property for the survey and other requirements.

Committee members did not extensively discuss the proposed ordinance, instead proposing a “white paper” be sent to the town council regarding the concept. Graviet said it had not yet been sent to Town Solicitor Terrance Jaywork for language determination and cautioned that the attorney might not like the idea.

Committee member Jane Fowler, on the other hand, greeted the proposal warmly, saying she’d vote for it right then if it was presented.

Continuing with a previous effort, CORC members put forward two charter changes for the town as regards its fines.

The first, developed by Jaywork at the request of town committees, would allow the town to remove its fine amounts to a separate schedule of fines, just as exists for fees in the town. The change is intended for both ease of reference and ease of updating annually by the town’s Budget and Finance Committee.

It was previously considered undoable, according to Jaywork, but town officials requested he find a way to make it work and it appears he did.

Fines for vehicle-related and criminal matters will remain separate from the new schedule of fines. Both are under the purview of the police department and must follow state guidelines. Committee members didn’t want to tinker with them and instead recommended adoption of the state motor-vehicle codes to address both the offenses and related penalties.

The second change would eliminate a reference to a maximum fine of $500 that the town can charge. The town already has fines that exceed that amount, including construction-violation fines that exceed $1,000.

Both charter changes will need to be sent to the state assembly for approval, and that is likely to be done in the near future.

Committee members were split as to what to do about town code regarding the opening of streets. There was general agreement that the existing ordinance was difficult to understand, but Building Inspector John Eckrich had said he didn’t have a problem with it in function.

With the committee having been charged, in part, with the clarification of ordinances, though, committee member Don Doyle said he found the ordinance obtusely written.

“You shouldn’t have to be Nostradamus to understand this,” he said.

Killmer said he found it a difficult task for CORC members to rewrite an ordinance that they really didn’t understand. Dorfman said he would at least like an explanation of why Eckrich found no need for any changes, while Doyle cautioned against the committee leaving things alone because they didn’t understand them.

The committee members clarified that the ordinance was meant to control who was allowed to formally open a street for use, useful in a case such as that at the “paper street” of Maryland Avenue in the town. They said the issue of property owners using the street as access to their properties had previously come up and the ordinance was definitely needed.

They favored requesting Jaywork rewrite the ordinance to make sure it was understandable and controlled both public and private use of such a street. Committee member Jane Fowler said the request should have “simplify” written on it in big capital letters to help ensure just such work was done.

CORC members also agreed to consider at their next meeting whether to drop an existing ordinance prohibiting transport of septic materials through the town, except as specifically permitted. Though the town has central sewer, the ordinance is also not currently enforced for temporary toilet facilities, such as those at construction sites.

Also at the Nov. 17 meeting, CORC members:

• Discussed the creation of a new town map, updating the existing circa-1985 map.
Killmer said the map was sorely out of date and noted that representatives of Kercher Engineering had recommended an update be done every two years, since the map is referenced in the town’s zoning codes and as part of Planning Commission processes.

• Moved to forward recommendations to the town council to close a loophole in town code regarding fences on commercial-zoned properties that contiguous with the town’s residential zones.

Various permutations of residential and commercial boundaries were already addressed in the code — except for this one. Former Mayor Joseph McHugh recommended portions of the ordinance that fall under the same guidelines be combined into a single phrase and committee members agreed. Residential properties in the commercial zone will be treated as non-conforming properties under the ordinance.

• Continued discussion of the town’s ordinances regarding the marking and registration of driveways, focusing on the ability of police to evenly enforce parking laws when driveways might not be obviously marked and when the town’s east and west sides are largely differing standards.

Committee members agreed to forward the issue to the town’s Traffic and Parking Committee, saying it had more to do with that committee’s work than general issues of ordinances in the town as tackled by CORC.

• Rejected the notion of a limitation in height for trees or shrubs used as screening. Killmer had proposed the idea, saying there was the potential to create a “fort” when neighbors grew such landscape screens to excessive heights — something that would limit the amount of air and light getting to their neighbors’ properties, he said.

Such plantings are notably excluded from town code imposing height limits on fencing, though Killmer commented that they were in some cases “de facto fences.”

Doyle said efforts to limit such plantings flew in the face of town efforts to encourage the retention of trees. McHugh and Dorfman said they foresaw problems with such an ordinance on the basis of property owners’ rights. Fowler, however, said she didn’t see such a rights issue but did think the restriction was simply unnecessary, since such plantings are a personal aesthetic choice.

• Set for a future agenda discussion of ways to ensure that contractors or home owners doing damage to any neighboring property during the course of construction or renovation would be held responsible for that damage by the town. Doyle suggested the measure after recent problems getting repaired some damage done by a contractor to common property at Turtle Walk.

Currently, the town requires permit-holders to be responsible for damage done to town property, such as curbs or roads.